Mitt Romney, usually cautious and measured in describing his nascent campaign, allowed himself a minor indulgence in describing to reporters the fundraising call-a-thon that netted his presidential bid $10.25 million here Monday.
“That’s a terrific start,” Romney began, in typical expectation-setting mode, before catching himself: “Actually it’s more than just a start – it really gives us the boost that we need at this early stage in my effort.”
One of his top advisers was even blunter when asked whether any of Romney’s rivals could demonstrate the sort of political muscle-flexing that the former Massachusetts governor staged by convening over 700 supporters to call through their Rolodexes for the better part of eight hours on the floor of the hangar-sized Las Vegas Convention Center.
“No,” said longtime spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom, recalling that Romney held similar events in his last campaign. “Nobody has copied it because it’s hard to do.”
If Romney and his campaign sound confident, or even a little cocky, it’s because they’ve developed a fearsome fundraising machine that is almost certain to be unmatched by any other GOP hopeful. And he’ll need it, judging from the not-good-enough reaction to his healthcare speech last week and the continued pining for more candidates.
Romney’s total haul for this quarter, to be revealed in July, will be revealing. One fundraiser here said assuredly that the Republican would raise $40 million, a sum that could give him a financial advantage so strong that it partly compensates for his considerable weaknesses.
Considering what Romney raised here Monday and that he will, according to a campaign official, hold over 30 fundraisers between now and when the quarter ends in June that figure seems quite possible.
His biggest asset, however, could be the millions in his own bank account. The former venture capitalist plowed $42 million of his own money into his failed 2008 bid for the nomination.
At a press availability following a roundtable with University of Nevada Las Vegas College Republicans, Romney indicated that he was again open to funding his own campaign.
“With regards to my own resources and the campaign, that’s counsel I’m going to keep with Ann and myself,” he said, alluding to his wife.
Pressed if he was ruling it out, Romney said: “No guidance on that.”
If he’s willing to self-fund, Romney could dwarf the competition financially. Jon Huntsman, like Romney a wealthy scion, has said that if he runs he won’t put in his own money. Tim Pawlenty isn’t independently wealthy and may not even raise this quarter what Romney did Monday. Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin could raise significant cash online and through direct mail, but would have trouble putting together the network of bundlers necessary to put up Romney-level money.
Then there’s Mitch Daniels, who is still mulling whether to run. With the support of some Bush family loyalists and friends he’s made through decades of working in national politics, the Indiana governor could offer some of the stiffest competition to Romney.
And it was clear, in not-for-attribution conversations with donors here, that Daniels is the one Team Mitt is eying.
In fact many said without prompting that Romney’s one-day haul should send a message all the way to Indianapolis.
“Could Mitch do this?” asked one.
“He’s got to ask – could I do this?” said another Romney contributor. “Could I raise even $25 million [for the quarter]?”
Longtime GOP donors said that Daniels still has an opening – but that it won’t last much longer.
“There are individuals across the country who would like to see him get in the race,” said James Huffines, a still-neutral Texas moneyman and former Bush bundler who has been courted by every major campaign. “They are calling him, encouraging him to throw his hat in the ring. And over a 90-day period he could ramp up and create a network. But it won’t be easy.”
Ana Navarro, a Florida Republican contributor who just met with Huntsman last week, voiced what many Republicans are feeling about the hesitance of Daniels and other potential candidates to reveal their intentions.
“I am getting rather impatient with the Hokey-Pokey song and dance,” she said. “They put their right foot in, they put their right foot out and they shake it all about. I’m not going to back anyone until I know he’s ready to be all in and not just one limb at a time.”
After his performance here Monday, there is little doubt as to how financially formidable Romney will be. And as an organizational test, it was an impressive show of strength.
He held a similar call day in Boston to kick off his 2008 campaign, but the gathering here drew more donors, raised nearly $4 million more and was technologically advanced to the point that the callers could actually take credit card information and record contributions on their iPads.
The fundraisers, some clad in blue Romney t-shirts and others sporting blue hats that read “Call Day,” arrived as early as 5:30 AM to begin dialing for dollars on the East Coast. They kept at it until 2 PM. Each paid his or her own way to get here and even had to pick up their own lunch. Donors were, however, treated to a Sunday night reception at Steve Wynn’s Encore casino to get them fired up.
The goals varied, but the general targets were staggered at $10,000, $25,000 and $50,000.
Some, like former Romney business colleague and California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, aimed even higher.
“I’ve made hundreds and hundreds of phone calls,” Whitman said, noting that she had begun dialing even before arriving in Las Vegas. “The deadline that I gave people was end of business today.”
Many of the callers pegged their pitches to some of the 30-plus fundraising events on Romney’s calendar over the next month-and-a-half.
So when calls were made to potential givers in Washington, D.C., for example, the request was not just to cut a check but to come see Romney in person at an event at a lobbying firm on June 29th.
Romney officials restricted media access to the cavernous hall where the calls were being made, but did allow reporters to a glass-enclosed room above the floor to observe the process.
Dressed casually in slacks and a button-down shirt, the former governor could be seen making his way around the tables, taking cell phones from fundraisers to make some of the asks personally. He was joined by his wife and four of his five sons.
In a conference call with supporters earlier in the day, he signaled that, even though he’s yet to formally announce his candidacy, the event marked the effective start of his campaign.
“A lot of people have been asking, ‘When is this campaign really going to get going?'” he said. “When do the gears get into place? And the answer is today.”
Romney added: “Each person donating sends a statement, I think, across the nation that we’re serious and that this campaign is going to be successful.”
Later in the day, over In’N’Out Cheesburgers with the CRs at the UNLV student union, he expressed his determination more succinctly: “I tried winning, I tried losing – I liked winning better.”